Crystal Palace Park

The third of the original StoryPlaces Leverhulme projects

The Crystal Palace has been deemed notoriously difficult to narrativize by nineteenth-century commentators and twenty-first-century critics alike. Victorian writers frequently likened the spectacular glass structure and its expansive grounds to Fairy Land or a palace from the Arabian Nights. In its second, larger incarnation on Sydenham Ridge, it could be seen from many locations across the city, standing as a landmark to Victorian grandeur and innovation. Symbolically, the Palace spoke of panoramic horizons across the British Empire and wider globe, and famously hosted the 1911 Festival of the Empire.


After the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936 the park fell into a period of dereliction and decay. Today, archaeological traces of the Victorian pleasure park (including the pioneering Geological illustrations and dinosaurs) combine with twentieth-century features counting an outdoor concert stage, children’s farm and playground and national sports centre to create a multi-faceted outdoors recreation space at the heart of the Upper Norwood community.

In this story project we will work with community groups such as the Friends of Crystal Palace Park, Upper Norwood Joint Library reading group and junior library and the Phoenix Community Centre Writing Group to produce stories about the Crystal Palace Park today, inflected by narratives from its Victorian heyday. These will culminate in events including reading evenings, exhibitions (for example, at the Upper Norwood Joint Library), and a virtual exhibition of stories.

The Stories

In this, our third story project, we worked with the Upper Norwood Library Hub to bring together local writers to create locative stories set in Crystal Palace Park that were inspired by it's history both before and after the great fire that destroyed the palace. We also commissioned Katie Lyons to create a more substantial experience. Katie is an actor and writer who has written for numerous theatre projects set in immersive environments such as experiences for CityRead London, including 2017's 'Prophecy' show at London's Charterhouse.

Katie's story, Fallen Branches, is a romantic mystery in which readers explore the park's historical layers, following a young women as she uncovers family secrets, and a love lost in the shadows of the first world war.

We gave all the writer's for Crystal Palace access to our toolkit, and ran a workshop with them where we introduced them to our authoring tool. Unlike our previous projects it was the writers who created their digital stories directly in the tool, and we also worked closely with Katie to try and create an interactive story that worked with the landscape both thematically and navigationally. In total five of the writers at the workshop created complete stories, which we launched alongside Katie’s Fallen Branches at the Overgound Festival in the Summer of 2017.

Overground Festival

(17th June, 2017)

During the Overground Festival, we had a project stall next to the official story tent to launch our locative stories. It was a very hot and busy day, with over 28,000 visitors to the festival. The story tent was a fabulous draw, and it was great to see our own writers give some readings of their stories there in the afternoon.

You can find out more about the event here in this ECS news article.

Dave also wrote up a personal account of the day which you can find on his blog


The following materials were produced for the Crystal Palace events and are available for download.